After a decade and a half of bad hires, if there's anything that should elicit confidence for Notre Dame football fans, it's this: they almost can't get it wrong this time. There will be no excuses.
Notre Dame will seek a replacement for Charlie Weis at the near perfect time – when competition for the best and brightest coaches willing to make a move is nonexistent.
Also nonexistent is the movement to give Weis more time after Saturday's season finale at Stanford. Not even from Charlie Weis.
"If they decide to make a change, I'd have to say I'd have a tough time arguing with them," he told reporters Sunday.
Nothing like a coach all but admitting he deserves to be fired.
So let's move on to the inevitable search. As Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated points out, the coaching carousel often descends into a Darwinian exercise – or at least a senior prom shuffle, with the best-looking program seeking the prettiest coaching resume.
It's not just about what you offer, but what the other guy does.
Five years ago, when Notre Dame last sought a savior, it wasn't anyone's prom king. Florida not only was a better job, being more equipped to win both immediately and forever, but it dumped Ron Zook before the Irish did Tyrone Willingham.
The Gators wound up with Urban Meyer. And with other big openings in the mix, such as LSU, Notre Dame was stuck scrambling.
The Irish settled on Weis, who had some positive attributes (NFL experience, tireless work ethic, alum) but too many question marks. He had no head coaching experience. He had virtually no college experience. And it didn't help that he wasn't available to report full-time until after February's Super Bowl victory by his New England Patriots.
Weis held his first national signing day press conference in 2005 at the Super Bowl, crowded into the stands in Jacksonville. He'd been trying to do two jobs at once and understandably he signed a lousy class – just 15 players, few of whom had any impact.
While it's unlikely anything could've made it work long-term for Weis in South Bend, who knows what even a couple of good senior or fifth-year linebackers would've meant in coffin-nail losses to Syracuse or Connecticut.
In something as competitive as high-major football, sometimes the difference between success and failure can be that small.
But that was the situation Notre Dame had to accept – a coach who wasn't immediately available.
This year, they shouldn't find themselves in such a predicament.
With Michigan committed to another season of Rich Rodriguez, the Irish should be the premier job opening. Places such as Florida, Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Texas and USC have de facto coaches for life. Joe Paterno has given no indication that this is his last year at Penn State. Promising programs such as Tennessee, LSU, Miami and UCLA are set for at least another year.
The only plausible high-major job opening is Florida State, but the Seminoles are contractually committed to coach-in-waiting Jimbo Fisher.
In pursuit of the hottest up-and-coming coaches – Cincinnati's Brian Kelly, TCU's Gary Patterson, Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald, Stanford's Jim Harbaugh, Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson, etc. – Notre Dame will be the best option out there.
They'd be competing against themselves, essentially making the case to the coaches to make a move, not to choose ND over another power. They ought to be able to get one of the aforementioned guys.
Let's say Texas Tech coach Mike Leach really is interested in going to Louisville. If Notre Dame decides it wants him, they'd have a far easier time getting him to South Bend than if it was Florida offering a contract.
Anyone who thinks Notre Dame isn't still an elite job doesn't know anything about how college football works. By beating USC, Florida and Texas for more than his fair share of coveted prospects the last few years, Weis dispelled the theory that top talent no longer want to play at a tradition-rich, academically strong school that's on national television every week.
He had enough players to go 10-2 this year. He just couldn't coach them.
Weis' recruiting work is why this is actually a better job today than five years ago.
I'm on record saying Brian Kelly is the best choice for the Irish, but if they want to dream bigger, go ahead. Just do it quickly. Just know that about the only way Notre Dame can screw this up is with a delay that somehow takes guys such as Kelly off the market.
Still, if we've learned anything from the time David Abernathy approached the much-older Kerry Piqua and simply said, "call me" (other than it might get you a television commercial one day) it's that she did.
Urban Meyer is a pipe dream but until he says no, knock yourself out and call his agent. Same for Oklahoma's Bob Stoops or ESPN's Jon Gruden or whomever.
Too many schools fear rejection. They rely on coaching-search firms (a pass-the-buck excuse for athletic directors) who often are more interested in their own business than the schools paying them.
One of the great dare-to-dream moments came when Kentucky, desperate to end decades of irrelevance, took a crack at drawing Bill Parcells out of the NFL. Not only did Parcells not hang up, he became temporarily intrigued. He even discussed the possibility of giving it the college try with friends, including then-Texas Tech basketball coach Bob Knight.
In the end, Parcells decided against giving college a shot, but what could've been a program-altering hire was well worth the risk for the Wildcats.
So maybe Notre Dame's first call should be to Bill Belichick. They can work back from there.
In the end, if they run this properly and efficiently, they're going to end up with a stronger coaching candidate than Charlie Weis was. They shouldn't fall past that Kelly/Patterson/Johnson/Harbaugh/Fitzgerald level.
This year, for a change, Notre Dame is the best option for the prom.
- Charlie Weis
- Notre Dame